Animal Crossing is the only thing making me feel productive these days
Last Thursday was a good day on the island. The Stalk Market was up—503 bells per turnip—and I made a pretty penny, inching me closer to paying off my fourth loan to Tom Nook and a multi-level home. The Able Sisters’ shop had been selling monocles, so I picked a few up to hand out to my fellow islanders and send to my best friend, Kayla, via Dodo mail.Sprinting to my flower patch (careful not to trample any), I tenderly watered my roses, windflowers, and cosmos, which had been cross-breeding nicely. As I put my elephant-nose watering can back into my pocket, a feeling close to purpose washed over me. I don’t feel this way very often anymore, but accomplishing tasks on Animal Crossing: New Horizons makes life seem normal, at least for a bit.
For those new to the AC universe, the game can be boiled down to creating your own avatar to help improve the state of your own island. Slow-paced and similar to a “choose your own adventure” style activity, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is hugely popular, with over 11 million people having purchased the game within the first 12 days of its release, per NintendoLife. Celebs like Chrissy Teigen, Elijah Wood, and Brie Larson have publicly acknowledged their obsessions with the game—Teigen even tweeted about some of her proudest fish catches on her island.
Of course, AC isn’t alone in having mass appeal right now. According to Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg, the company saw a 75% increase in video game playing in the month of March alone. As GQ notes, video games like Overcooked! 2 and Rocket League have become lockdown favorites, likely because they offer similarly simplistic set-ups with the opportunity to connect with friends virtually. Jackbox games has also become popular to stream during video hangouts, with options like trivia or drawing games able to be played with friends. Then there are classics like Mario Kart, which is the ultimate turn-your-brain-off experience in how it allows you to focus solely on beating your competitors in a variety of adventurous racetracks.
Dr. Carlas Manly, clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend, explains that video games have become popular ways for people to decompress during the quarantine. “Positive games such as adventure video games tend to reduce stress and boost mood,” Dr. Manly tells HelloGiggles. “Games that are based on interactions and cooperative efforts with friends have the added benefit of being connective in nature.”
She notes why Animal Crossing, in particular, has had such widespread appeal during the pandemic. “Given the restrictive nature of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many people are finding it helpful to engage in activities that provide a sense of control and accomplishment,” Dr. Manly explains. “Video games such as Animal Crossing …can be very soothing and rewarding.”
When social distancing mandates were first put in place in New York City back in March, my days became a blur of waking up late, putting on sweatpants, and not seeing the sun. Day after day would end where I felt like I accomplished nothing. Fortunately, I was still working, but I lacked the sense of fulfillment that I used to get from things like seeing friends, visiting restaurants, and exercising at a gym. The mid-March release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons was like divine intervention. Suddenly, I had something to do that made me feel like I was moving toward a goal. I quickly found that while in real life, I don’t feel much of a sense of accomplishment in doing at-home yoga or cooking regular meals, I canbe steadily rewarded for simple tasks like picking some fruit or catching a fish in AC—and that feels good.
I’m far from alone in this experience. Katie, 28, who was recently furloughed from her job, tells HelloGiggles that she’s used the Animal Crossing lifestyle to feel a sense of pre-COVID normalcy.
“The game “has been filling a ‘retail therapy’ void for me right now,” Katie says. “In real life, I’m only buying groceries and other essential supplies. In Animal Crossing, I can buy a cute outfit or redecorate my house without a second thought about what it costs.”
Similarly, Hailey, 27, who has been out of work since before the pandemic, tells HelloGiggles that Animal Crossing offers structure at a time when she currently has little of it.
“I think it gives me a routine to follow because I’m a person who likes making to-do lists, and Animal Crossing gives me a way to accomplish goals, even if they’re not real,” she explains. “And you get rewarded with things that help you make your town visibly better.”
Plant some trees, earn some miles. Catch a butterfly and sell it for bells, then use those bells to buy yourself a hot tub and a hammock. Dig up some fossils, hand them over to Blathers, and now you’re the proprietor of a thriving museum.
It’s like I’m a kid again, getting gold stars for reaching mini milestones. Playing Animal Crossing feels like receiving all the positive reinforcement I can’t currently find in real life.
In Animal Crossing, I live life vicariously through my cute little avatar. In reality, I’m still wearing sweatpants most days and only seeing the sun in 15-minute intervals, but the mini version of me isn’t restricted; she can go outside whenever she wants, change outrageous outfits multiple times a day, and build a life that has tangible forward momentum. At a time when air travel is nearly non-existent, my avatar can hop on a plane and fly to another island where a whole new experience awaits. She can even visit my friends’ avatars—people whom I’m not currently able to see IRL—and interact with them in real time, which has been a great alternative to yet another boring Zoom call.
The villagers on your island will even throw you a birthday celebration. Considering my real birthday was mostly spent alone and indoors, recreating restaurant vibes in my kitchen and video-chatting with college friends, my AC event felt genuinely special. Having my own house party where I could blow out candles and hit a piñata with my fellow villagers almost made up for having a birthday in isolation this year.
Of course, Animal Crossing offers a simplistic, idealized version of reality that doesn’t resemble my actual life on my best days pre-COVID. But it’s that idealization that I need now more than ever. In a time where I have no choice but to be stagnant, putting off the real milestones I was planning for my life as I wait for the pandemic to be over, I have an escape where there’s both progress and variety. And while I may have no idea when this pandemic will end or what life will look like once it’s over, in the meantime, I have my island—and I can make that world into whatever I want it to be.